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Watching My Mom Become a Yoga Teacher Taught Me a New Meaning of Strength

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Photo: Ashley Mateo

Years ago, I was going through some version of a quarter-life crisis, and I spent the majority of my time venting my anxiety to my mom, as you do in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. One day, we were out shopping and talking about how fear can hold you back when we stumbled across a gorgeous gold bar necklace stamped with the word "FEARLESS." She immediately said she would buy it for me, and I wanted to get her one, too. But they had just one; the only other version of the necklace said "STRONG." I suggested that one instead, but she shook her head. "I've never thought of myself as strong," she admitted.

I didn't think much of it at the time—everyone is entitled to their own insecurities, even parents—but looking back, I think she's spent the past few years proving herself wrong.

Strength can mean a lot of things. Both of my parents have always been physically fit and active; I grew up hiking, cycling, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding with them. But strength can also be about pushing past your limits—and my mom has always seemed to be content staying within her comfort zone. After all, my parents lived in the same house for 26 years during which time they hung out exclusively with the same group of friends. (Related: I'm Thankful for Parents Who Taught Me to Love Fitness

But five years ago, my parents sold the house I grew up in and moved out of suburbia to a cute little town with a bustling Main Street. My mom, who has practiced yoga for about 15 years, joined a yoga studio down the street with my dad. And to me, it seemed like their whole world opened up. They were name-dropping new friends every time I talked to them, going out to dinner more often than I was, and generally acting younger and happier than I could remember them ever being. I was honestly a little jealous.

Given the sense of community they had found at their yoga studio, I wasn't surprised when, after she retired from her job as an occupational therapist in 2016, my mom announced that she was going to start yoga teacher training. What did surprise me was her fear: She was a nervous wreck about going back to "school." She thought she was too old, she thought she would never remember all the information, and she was terrified to lead an entire class. It was like a Freaky Friday role reversal—all of a sudden, I was the one listening to my mom's anxiety, trying to support her and boost her confidence as she worked toward this new goal.

Over the next seven months, I listened to her learn Sanskrit, watched her use flashcards to study the chakras and yoga philosophies, and moved through her flows with her over FaceTime. My mom, who worked her ass off at her job for more than 30 years, put even more effort into this new goal, sometimes practicing yoga twice a day in addition to attending training classes and studying her materials. 

I've gotta say, it was pretty cool to see my mom reinvent herself before my eyes. Your parents are supposed to be your biggest champions, they're supposed to have your back no matter what; how often do you get to return that favor? As she struggled and succeeded through the different phases of teacher training, I was learning to appreciate the fact that you're really never too old (sorry, Mom) to step out of your comfort zone in pursuit of a dream. (Related: The Health Benefits Of Trying New Things

Of course, I went home for my mom's final practice teaching session​, where she led an entire class filled with friends and family. I've never felt prouder than when the Sanskrit for pigeon pose, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, rolled off her tongue. And I couldn't believe this super-zen woman leading our breathwork was my über-Type-A mom. (I can say that because I'm exactly the same way!)

Now, my mom teaches several classes a week at multiple studios. She still gets nervous, but she's never shied away from a challenge, taking on new disciplines like yin or chair yoga and even doing private lessons. And when I ask her now if she thinks she's strong, her response is that she decided to be strong to go after her goals, but it's a work in progress.

I disagree. I think the fact that she achieved her goal—she's a certified yoga teacher!—is proof enough of her strength. Just like "fearless" doesn't mean living without fear, but rather not letting fear control you, I've come to realize that strength means accepting your insecurities and vulnerabilities, but not letting them stop you from going after what you want. 

So this Mother's Day, I'll be spending the morning with my mom in one of her yoga classes—and I don't think there's any other place that would help me appreciate what an inspiring, strong mother she's always been.

When you’ve got kids, the juggle is real—but we’ve got your workout covered with the fresh tips and fitspo you need to reduce stress and feel your best.

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